Turkey

Istanbul and Anatolia

June 10, 2014

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My eyes sting from exhaust fume. The sound of large passing trucks no longer makes me stir. I am 30 km from Istanbul but feel as if I am riding on one of the busiest roads in the world. A once two lane highway has split into 6; compact cars filled with locals, pickup trucks carrying loads of fruit and furniture, lories full with cargo heading to central Asia and motorcycle after motorcycle. A once quiet shoulder has disappeared and now I fight for space with locals on Vespa’s. One, two, three and sometimes four people squeeze on to small motor powered bikes. Just a little further, I tell myself and I will reach the Bosporus, and will begin my adventures in Asia. I pedal on and exit the chaotic highway heading for the ferry terminal. A steep descent brings me to the dividing line between Trace (Western Turkey) and Anatolia (East Turkey, otherwise known as Asia minor). I board a ferry filled with locals and gypsies playing music and watch the large mosques fade away in the horizon, I am officially in Asia.

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Bosphorus, 1 mile long water way connecting the Black Sea with the Aegean, separates Western and Eastern Turkey. Istanbul

Trace, the Western portion of Turkey, has a very different feel than Greece. No longer does life look so easy, Turks are working on farms planting crops in the mud, transporting hay in horse pulled buggies and repairing potholes in the roads. Mosques have once again replaced churches and I rejoice to the sound of the evening and morning call to prayer. Upon leaving Greece I ran into the honeymoon cyclists riding with a French couple on trikes. We were all headed in the same direction so we planned to pedal together to Istanbul.

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Wheat fields in Turkish countryside

A party of 5, we all pitched our tents in a muddy wheat field and had a pot lucked dinner.. I almost felt homeless when camp next to them. Brand new tents, cooking gear, panniers and bicycles all seem to scoff at the half roll of guerrilla tape holding my tent together. Gaby will show up their brand named touring bikes any day, and new gear draws way too much attention especially in the middle east.

Turkish tree full of "evil eyes"  originally used to ward off the Crusaders

Turkish tree full of “evil eyes” originally used to ward off the Crusaders, now a popular good luck charm.

The next day we planned to ride 85 km and meet in the city of Tekirdag. I love camping and hanging out at the end of the day, but while pedaling unless the pace is right riding together in groups on busy highways is not what I consider to be a good time. I pedaled ahead and arrived several hours ahead of them at our meeting point. After a tour of the city, a lunch of local fruits, a 45 minute nap, and a few beers with locals, they see my bike from the road and we reunite. I feel refreshed and alive after close to 3 hours of hanging out but I can tell that my friends are tired. We cycle up a steep hill and I mash up at full speed getting a bit ahead of the group. I jump on the expressway and pedal on en-route to Istanbul. I pull to the shoulder and wait for the pack to catch up, nothing. Fuck.. I lost them again!! Alone again I pedal on and sleep in the front yard of a Kurdish hotel. I set up my tent just before a huge rain storm.

Dinner with friends in Istanbul

Dinner with host and friends in Istanbul

I wake up after a long night of pouring rain and am offered Turkish chai and breakfast. The Kurdish family that owns the hotel really likes my Jordanian Kifeye and we seem to become instant friends. I learn that traditional Kurdish attire is similar to the Bedouin of the middle east and a few phrases in their native language. “Selove”, other than the Turkish “Merhaba” is their standard greeting but as with all Islamic countries “Salam Allekum” is always well received. The family invites me to come and visit their village tucked in the high mountains between Iraq and Syria, very near an extreme conflict zone, but enticing nonetheless. I think I will go.

Eastern Turkish Cuisine, Gozleme, fresh bread with eggplant and cheese, very similar to a quesadilla. Washed down with ayran, the salty Turkish Lassie equivalent.

Eastern Turkish Cuisine,
Gozleme, fresh bread with eggplant and cheese, very similar to a quesadilla. Washed down with ayran, the salty Turkish Lassie equivalent.

After an extremely dangerous commute on the Turkish freeways I was greeted on the Asia side of Istanbul by my two family friends Barbara and Judy. After a celebratory meal, I packed a carry on bag for a 5 day excursion throughout Turkey. With little time to rest we woke up at 3 am and headed to the airport where we flew to the ancient city of Cappadocia located in central Turkey.

Capodokia

Cappadocia

Barbara, Judy and I in the central Turkish desert

Barbara, Judy and I in the central Turkish desert

One of the oldest cities in the world, Cappadocia was home to many of the ancient civilizations starting with the Hittites in 1600 BC. Millions of years ago volcanic lava covered sandstone rocks, creating a natural wonder after erosion. How nice it is to experience a different type of travel, after arriving at the airport we were picked up and chauffeured in a private car, ate at local truck stops, slept in cave hotels and walked through the ancient city.

Ruins of the ancient city

Ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus

From Cappadocia we traveled to Kushadasi, a coast city near the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, built-in the 10th century BC. A drastic change from the central desert regions of Turkey, we traveled to the neighboring mountains where the St. Mary lived after the crucifixion, and spent hours marveling at the grandeur of Ephesus. Personally one of the most interesting things was the ancient latrine, which housed one of the first stone Roman toilets!

Temple of Celcius, Ephesus

Temple of Celsius, Ephesus

Crusaders always left their mark, Ephesus

Crusaders always left their mark, Ephesus

First invented none squatting toilet, Ephesus

First invented non-squatting toilet, originally only used by men, Ephesus

2 hour ferry trip to the Greek island of Samos

2 hour ferry trip to the Greek island of Samos

The next day we jumped on a boat and headed to the Greek island of Samos. One of the 5 largest islands in Greece, we journeyed to the birth place of Pythagoras, ate lunch on ancient ruins and drank Greek coffee at the marina. Definitely my type of place warm beautiful beaches and a very relaxed Greek atmosphere. From Kusadasi we traveled to the resort city of Bodrum, which was no different from any other resort city. Arriving at night, all culture evaporated, and we were surrounded by European and Russian tourists. The Turkish equivalent of Tijuana, we were glad to find our hotel that was sheltered from the main strip. After a day of exploring the local Ottoman castle and hanging in local cafes we retired to the airport and flew back to Istanbul.

Ancient Greek ruins and Aegean coast line

Ancient Greek ruins and Aegean coast line

Last remaining pillar at the temple of Artemis, friend of Alexander the Great

Last remaining pillar at the temple of Artemis, friend of Alexander the Great

Lounging and unwinding at the Ottoman fortress in Bodrum

Lounging and unwinding at the Ottoman fortress in Bodrum

More epic caves, Cappodocia

More epic caves, Cappadocia

Judy and her camel friends

Judy and her camel friends

Warm evenings and plenty of great conversations

Warm evenings and plenty of great conversations

How different things are when you travel by air and automobile. There are no mountains, rivers and deserts to cross and the adventure is taken out of the transportation and becomes the destination. I had a fantastic time and am now ready to discover Istanbul and prepare myself for the Kurdish part of Turkey. I have become very close with my two American friends and am sad that they are leaving tomorrow. As much as I like company I love traveling alone, and continue to look forward to my journey through Turkey and into Georgia. This is the beginning of a new chapter in my adventures, Asia. Istanbul is a fabulous city but personally it is not as exotic as it has always been described. I was expecting more of a middle eastern influence but am constantly surprised how European everything is.

The "New" Mosque built in 1576 Istanbul

The “New” Mosque built-in 1576 Istanbul

Mihrab, direction of Mecca inside Mosque

Mihrab, direction of Mecca inside Mosque

The mosques however are absolutely astounding! And I have learned that Turkish is spoken in Azerbaijan and many of the Central Asia countries. Time to start studying! Will touch base again in the next few days, I plan on staying in Istanbul till next week. –Allahismarladik

 A Closer look at Istanbul

June 24, 2014

Asia is derived from the ancient Greek word Anatolia, which means sunrise. Europe is thought to have been derived from the word meaning sunset or land of darkness. -Istanbul The Imperial City

Hallway in the famous Aya Sofia mosque

Hallway in the famous Aya Sofia mosque

I am stranded in the fabulous city at crossroads of Europe and Asia. A few days ago my rear wheel literally fell apart during some routine maintenance. Bicycle shops in the city are plentiful but finding a reliable rims and spokes, that aren’t cheap knock offs is impossible. After leaving Istanbul I may not encounter another bicycle shop till China, and wheel troubles in the remote Central Asian deserts could be dire. I made a few long distance phone calls and after a bit of negotiation I found a wheel sponsor, VelocityUSA. These guys are awesome! After telling them about my trip and my problems with finding a reliable wheels they agreed to send me a “Zombie proof” wheel set! A custom build, in a few days I will have two a sealed bearing, 36 spoke hubs laced with stainless steel DT Swiss double butted spokes to robust NoBS touring rims! What a gift!! I am going to be the official test pilot for their new rims, NoBS, and will be submitting testimonials along the journey. Velocity has a long history of standing by their products and helping cyclists in remote locations. I look forward to giving their wheels some extensive abuse and will keep you all posted!

Abdest fountain outside Fatih Camii for cleaning before prayers

Abdest fountain outside Fatih Camii for cleaning before prayers

Handmade Turkish rug

Handmade Turkish rug

In the last few weeks I have thoroughly explored Istanbul, and I must admit that the city continues to fascinates me. I have visited almost every historic Camii’, (pronounced Jami, Mosque) in and around the city, and each morning I wake up with the desire to see them again. The in-depth history of Constantinople and the Ottoman empire has inspired me to seek out obscure buildings built on ruins of the past.

Roof top Buffet with Semra, Richard and friends. Richard far right, Semra front right

Roof top Buffet with friends. Richard far right, Semra front right

Running away from the Touristed Bazzar

Inside the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Cami)

I have become quite close with my hosts, Richard, Semra and Ayse, and have begun to feel like they are family.Richard has been in the city more than 12 years and is as enthusiastic as I am in retracing the footsteps of the past. We have shared many great ideas and have had interesting conversations during our walks around the city. Last Sunday, we both (somehow )convinced each other to go to an Armenian Coptic Church service. Inside a large smoky dim-lit Chapel was 6 monks dressed in cloaks chanting. The smoke continued to grow, as one monk diligently swung an ancient looking censer. Almost as if the service were Choreographed the monks changed locations throughout the Chapel, and set up props while the priest changed outfits 3 times (white robe, black cloak and finally to a white robe adorned with gold writing and a huge crown). After 30 minutes the curtain in front of the Alter was drawn, and the priest vanished behind while the chanting continued. Soon a sacred book and scepter icon, (The icon contained an eye in the center of a triangle a lot like the pyramid on the US dollar) were carried over head, around the Church by the priest while the monks began to circumambulate the Altar. In the hour and a half service I did not understand a single word but was on the edge of my seat in awe at the strange performance.

One of the many underground Cisterns built and engineered by the Ottomans

One of the many underground Cisterns built and engineered by the Ottomans

Fortress walls from Rumeli Hissara, these this fortress was built to stop ships from supplying Constantinople.

Fortress walls from Rumeli Hissara, these this fortress was built to stop ships from supplying Constantinople.

I can really feel the mix between Europe and Asia here. Many of the districts near the Mosques have neighborhoods inhabited by fundamental Muslims; and it is not uncommon to see most the women in full burka, and the men in Shellvars (traditional Islamic loose pants)and white Taqiyahs (skull caps). Outside of these religious areas the city becomes is very European with women and men dressed in high fashion name brand clothing, talking on I-phones drinking coffee at Starbucks. These two extremes, the eastern and western culture collide on Bagdat street (the high fashion neighborhood) where one can see women in burka buying Victoria’s secret lingerie and sampling Chanel perfume. On the outskirts of the city, and in many of the poor neighborhoods you can find large Gypsy communities. The Gypsies travel throughout the city, mostly bare foot, playing music for pocket-change. Everyday while riding the ferry from the Asia side of the city to the European I listen to young gypsies playing the accordion and singing traditional songs. There is also a small Kurdish population, that is subject to a lot of political controversy. The Kurds, who look a lot like the Bedouin of Arabia, were originally from the south-east region of Turkey, and work many of the labor intensive jobs in the city. Between these extremes you find the majority of Turks, women wearing colorful headscarves, in western clothing, and Turkish men dressed like any other westerner.

Roof top view of Karikoy (north western Istanbul)

Roof top view of Karikoy (north-western Istanbul)

Orthodox Mosaic, Aya Sofia Mosque

Orthodox Mosaic, Ancient Church Chora

Fresco, found on ceiling in Chora

Fresco, found on ceiling in Chora

The beauty in Chora continues

The beauty in Chora continues

Inside Aya Sophia Camii

Inside Aya Sophia Mosque

The historic section of the city is located on the peninsula west of the Bosphorus (European side) in the districts of Eminonu and Sultan Ahmet. This is where the Byzantium and Ottoman palaces were built along with many of the more decorated churches and mosques. After the fall of Constantinople, the Muslim Ottoman empire renamed the city Istanbul and converted all the Orthodox churches to Mosques. Many of the Christian mosaics and frescoes were left undisturbed and can still be viewed in many of the mosques today. Strangely enough most of the damage to these religious works of art was incurred by the Roman Catholic Crusaders in the early part of the 13th century, during the great schism between Orthodox and Catholic Christianity. This schism eventually led to the decline of Christianity in the east and to the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Crossing the legendary Bosphorus river, I am staying on the Asia side of Istanbul (East of the river). Every day I take the ferry the historic western half of the city

Crossing the legendary Bosphorus river, I am staying on the Asia side of Istanbul (East of the river). Every day I take the ferry the historic western half of the city

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Galata bridge at sunset. The Byzantium Emperor tried to deter the invading Ottoman army by putting a chain across the river at this point. The ambitious Ottoman’s carried their ships over land, and around the chain very near the location where I took this photo

I will be on the road again soon, but until then I am thoroughly enjoying my time in the city. With a population over 10 million this is by far the largest city I have visited since departing California over a year ago. Summer is here! It is already over 30 degrees here and from what I hear close to 50 degrees in Central Asia. This next leg of the journey is going to be the biggest adventure of my life!

Standard Ottoman Mosque Courtyard

Standard Ottoman Mosque Courtyard

Sulyeman Mosque

Sulyeman Mosque

Ornate walls in the Topkapi palace, used by all Ottoman Sultans

Ornate walls in the Topkapi palace, used by all Ottoman Sultans

Ceiling inside Ortakoy Mosque

Ceiling inside Ortakoy Mosque

 Randonneuring Ramadan

July 3, 2014

Fast, light weight, long distance, self-sufficient cycling, during the holy Muslim month of fasting and self-reflection.

Quiet streets and restaurants during afternoon fasting

Quiet streets and restaurants during afternoon fasting

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan (Ramazan in Turkish) began a few days ago on June 29th. During this time all practicing Muslims observe fasting (all liquids and solids) and sexual abstinence during the hours of dawn to dusk. Ramadan is one of the 5 pillars of Islam, and during the summer days are close to 17 hours. A typical day begins with Suhoor the predawn meal before Fajr (3:30 am) the first prayer, followed by fasting until Maghrib (8:40 pm) the evening prayer. Practitioners usually wait at the table till the completion of the ezhan (call to prayer) then say a short prayer and begin Iftar the evening meal. (The exact times change and vary due to location but are the actual times these events will be practiced in Istanbul tomorrow, the 4th of July).

Stacks and stacks of Simit, the Turkish doughnut left untouched during Ramadan

Stacks and stacks of Simit, the Turkish on the go breakfast/snack left untouched during Ramadan

Traditionally Iftar, begins with eating a few dates. I have heard that this is symbolic and goes all the way back to the time of the Prophet (pbbh)., This is to remind those who fast that the body does not need as much food as the mind desires. Other than dates there is the traditional Ramazan Pidesi, thin, oven baked bread, sold fresh and hot throughout the city in the late afternoon and early evening. (Certain bakeries are widely known for their Pidesi and long lines begin as early as 5 pm). Many women and home makers begin preparing for the evening meal early in the day and spend most of their time shopping for ingredients and cooking.

Fresh, hot Ramazan Pidesi from the bakery down the street, Suadye distric Istanbul

Fresh, hot Ramazan Pidesi from the bakery down the street, Suadye distric Istanbul

Depending on the location and time of day, many restaurants and coffee shops can be completely deserted. In some areas like the fundamental districts of Fatih and Uskudar it feels almost as if the city is asleep. In contrast in the western shopping districts no observation of Ramadan fasting can be witnessed. In many cities throughout Turkey the Iftar evening meal is paid for by the government with booths, tables, chairs and lighting set up on street corners. I will be looking forward to these meals as I pedal east.

Velocity Wheelset

The long-awaited Velocity Wheel set

My new wheels have arrived!! Finally, after a long day at customs and the help of my two fantastic hosts, Semra and Rich I have my “zombie proof” wheels, These are said to be the strongest man has to offer in terms of cycle touring and I quickly noticed that the new wheels weight substantially more than the last set. Unfortunately this extra weight will slow my pace when trying to escape from flesh-eating zombies. (I am a little unsure as to what they meant by zombie proof). Due to the time spent waiting for the wheels my route through Turkey has changed. I have now decided to pedal north along the Black Sea directly to Georgiastan. This will give me plenty of time to explore the exotic lands of the 4 Stans; Kazakh, Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Tajik before crossing the Pamirs into China.

Richard with Imam in Lalei Camii

Richard with Imam in Lalei Camii

I am all set up and ready to hit the road again, I have a visa for Azerbaijan which begins on July 28th and because of some fantastic diplomatic relations I can now travel to Kazakhstan visa free!! I am sad to leave my new friends. I have gotten so used to their company, that I have almost forgotten what things are like on my own. I have learned so much from them and even had my Vedic Astrology birth chart analyzed. I have felt this way with several people on this trip, the most recent being with Ljubinka and Nino on the island of Krk in Croatia. I adapt quickly and that there is so much more awaiting me on long dusty sweltering roads to Central Asia. I leave on Saturday. One year ago tomorrow I was partying at a BBQ in Marfa, Texas! Enjoy Ramadan!!

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Quiet religious neighborhoods of Fatih and Uskudar during Ramadan

Pushing on Central Turkey to the Black Sea

July 7 , 2014

Remember Julian you have the source (just follow it).

 

Leaving my friends in Turkey

Leaving my friends in Turkey

I pedal away from Istanbul on a set of new wheels, and a few extra pounds of energy. It has been a full month since riding a loaded bicycle and I feel the familiar feeling of balancing 4 panniers and two top bags. As I head up the street I begin to wonder if my tires are low or if I am dragging something, but continue on and slowly pedal beside traffic. While in Istanbul I actually had the opportunity to rid myself of several nefarious items (mostly war relics from Sarajevo) and after repacking was able to get an accurate weight of Gabriella with all the gear. 54 KG (130 pounds) This is a relatively light weight and I am glad as I pedal through the warm temperatures and rolling hills of Central Turkey.

Turkish plateau, 1500 meters, rolling hills and dry dusty roads

Turkish plateau, elevation 1500 meters, rolling hills and dry dusty roads

It is odd, my muscles at first didn’t seem to remember pedaling a heavy bicycle and on several occasions I felt so fatigued I wondered how I would go on for the day. I stop every 20-30 km to buy water, and practice my Turkish. The store keepers are almost always grumpy and bothered by me drinking liters of cold water in their presence. To me it seems that they spend the whole day suffering over fasting (Orich) and thinking about what to eat at Iftar. Ramadan is to remind people of their devotion to god, and to give them an opportunity to practice, but I am yet to experience a person who embodies this. A good way to piss off a lot of devotional Muslims is to take a full loaf of bread and make a huge peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then eat it in the town square. I actually was bold enough to do this because I felt that the temptation was part of the practice, but in the conservative city of Bolu I was told by several people not to eat in public.

Local Turkish tea, served in its traditional glass and saucer. One great thing about Ramadan is that restaurants don't bother you to order food, you can actually rest in one and order nothing

Local Turkish tea, served in its traditional glass and saucer. One great thing about Ramadan is that restaurants don’t bother you to order food, you can actually rest in one and order nothing

In the evenings the local grocery stores are packed with hungry Muslims buying last-minute items. When the evening call to prayer sounds the streets become empty, even traffic seems cease, soon after the sound of people eating (forks and plates clanking and glasses clinking) can be heard throughout the town. On my first night on the just after the call to prayer I found a clearing of tall pine trees that looked quiet enough to sleep in. With little energy I found a flat spot near a local trash dump, pitched my tent and after retiring noticed a pungent odor, “what the heck kind of trash smells like that” I asked myself? It smells like a rotten aquarium tank!! I sniffed around and discovered to my amazement that the fetid odor was coming from the tent! To my amazement I realized that I had forgotten to let it dry after my last night camp in the rain. The tent had been sitting wet inside a plastic bag for a month! Oh well, I was too tired to care and slept peacefully to top of years of accumulated trash.

Not trash camping, a nice spot near a quiet brook

Not trash camping, a nice spot near a quiet brook

After finally leaving the urban sprawl of Istanbul I climbed several thousand feet to a plateau of rolling hills and dry pine forests. Traffic is tame but I am constantly honked at by excited travelers and bored lorry drivers. Many trucks have custom horns and I often hear tunes similar to “La Cucaracha” blasted while passing. The open country brings back recent adventures and beckons me to discover its beauty. Wild camping is more than plentiful and on several nights I camped on dry stream beds and listened to babbling brooks. Each morning is filled with procrastination as my extremely sore body lounges around till noon, looking for excuses to take a day off. There is too little water to spend a day in nature and the sun is by far too hot during mid day, all I can do is push through the tough times.

Local windmill

Local windmill

After 4 to 5 days my body becomes accustomed to life on the road. My muscles no longer ache at night and seem to have built up reserves. There is nothing more than wilderness between towns and before camping I often have to ride any extra 20 km to a town to pick supplies, then another 10 km to a remote camping spot. All in all, the terrain is great as I never have to travel more than a km off the main road to find a secluded camp.

More quiet fields to camp in

More quiet fields to camp in

I am riding east through central Turkey until I reach the city of Merzifon where I will begin my journey north and meet up with the black sea. I will then following the cool coastal road all the way to Georgia and proceed from there to Azerbaijan. My Azerbaijan visa has given me much hassle, and in the last few days I have spent countless hours on the phone talking to confused personnel. The 20 day Azerbaijan tourist visa required a wire transfer to the embassy’s off shore account in the British Isles, when my US bank saw the transfer they blocked it and froze my account saying that the funds might be used/sent to Iran. I tried on several occasions to explain that Azerbaijan is totally a different country and that it is hundreds of miles from Iran but somehow a red flag was placed on my account, the Patriot Act was invoked and now all I can do is wait. Luckily I have some Turkish lira, (make sure to always have cash with you on tour!!) even with a new bank card (which I recently had to go through the hassle of having expedited) I would still be unable to access my account. The processing time for the visa is several weeks meaning I might get stuck in Georgianstan for a few weeks. There is always exploring to do but I would rather spend the time in Uzbekistan or Kyrgyzstan. Things will work out one way or the other! I will write again from the temperate coasts of the Black Sea.

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Tempers flair on the Black Sea

July 14, 2014

A warm night a morning in the Turkish interior, I move my tent twice and use a sleeping bag to hold back the heat of the sun

A warm night a morning in the Turkish interior, I move my tent twice and use a sleeping bag to hold back the heat of the sun

I have arrived at the Black Sea! After pedaling more than 700 km, I can begin my coastal route to Georgia. The last few days through the interior were tough!! During the day I struggled with the intense heat and steep passes and at night was molested by mosquitos, biting flies and ants. At such times keeping a good attitude was mandatory for my wellbeing, and often I thought about the stories of a Buddhist Monk in California. The monk had previously lived in Thailand and every morning he would walk barefoot receiving alms from the community. On cold rainy days he told me that if he thought about all the hardships and suffering he would encounter, walking barefoot in the cold, he would never have the strength to get food. So what he did was take things one breath (step) at a time and when he didn’t think about what was going to happen next everything was possible.

The last few days have offered very little in terms of a break from the road. When I am pedaling I am on its shoulders when I am resting I am at its side, when I am sleeping it’s in my ear.

The Black Sea

The Black Sea

The Black Coast is a lot different from what I imagined. On the road to city of Samsun, I was over whelmed by billboards advertising surfing, scuba diving and water skiing but when I arrived the ocean was murky and all the beaches beside the large port. I pedaled on only to discover that the coastline would change very little, being very industrial and offering very little in terms of areas to swim. Since leaving Istanbul, Turkey has been the only country so far that I have had to get by solely on Turkish. Strangers claim to speak English but after a few words I realize that my Turkish is better (I speak very poorly).

My appearance has become quite disheveled, all the dirt, sweat and wild camping has laid its mark on my appearance. So much so that when I arrived in Samsun and asked for directions a nice man gave me a new shirt and offered to buy me food. A few hours later I stopped for tea near a local Mosque and almost got into a violent confrontation with a fasting Turkish man. I was sipping tea and enjoying my own company, when a man started yelling (to get my attention) from the other side of the room. I ignored him and then he threw down his glass and walked over to my table. He started yelling Turkish obscenities and tried to tell me that he was “a Taliban terrorist” and that he was going to give me trouble if I didn’t leave. I continued to drink my tea and was unreactive; I could smell his fasting breath and his eyes had the look of deep hatred. What did I do to invoke this behavior, he must need some sort of avenue to release his suffering, and think that I am as ignorant as I look.

I knew that if I stood up I would have to fight, if I left he would win ( and be proud of his actions), so… I continued to drink my tea and let him continue being a fool. It is ignorant people like this that give Islam a bad name. How can a man who reads the Koran, calling himself Muslim, treat human beings this way. He is not Muslim; he is a poor excuse for a human being that cannot even comprehend the knowledge of religious teachings. It makes me feel bad that he is giving a bag label to such an honorable faith. I finished my tea and pedaled on.

Coastal Mosque first Jagged mountains I have seen since Albania

Coastal Mosque in the background first jagged mountains I have seen since Albania

I am approximately 400 kilometers from the Georgian border, with still no Azerbaijan visa my thoughts drift toward Mt. Ararat near the Armenian border. Right now, though all I really need is some time to collect myself near the sea.

Afternoon Turkish lunch salad: Tomatoes, onions and peppers mixed with oil salt and cumin

Afternoon Turkish lunch salad: Tomatoes, onions and peppers mixed with oil salt and cumin

Women’s Suffrage and Turkish Cycling

July 19, 2014

My cycling rights in Turkey are best compared to Women’s voting rights in 19th century America, they don’t exist. Many automobiles and trucks sport the bumper sticker “ALLAH KORUSUN” (God protect) on their bumpers, more appropriate would be to have the sticker on the front windshield as a warning to everything in their path. Regardless of if I am pedaling on the shoulder or even on the sidewalk, automobiles in Turkey will drive on and over anything, to shorten their commute. On several occasions while pedaling on the shoulder of a busy highway, I would encounter a car heading in the opposite direction taking up the shoulder I was pedaling on, the car would honk as if I were attempting to play chicken and forcing me into the busy highway. Passenger buses and city vans will stop anywhere, even in the slow lane of the highway to pick up/drop off passengers. I even remember seeing a man dropping off his 9 month pregnant wife on the side of the highway, as there was a hospital on the other side of the guard rail! The local saying couldn’t describe it better: “Burasa Turkiye” – This is Turkey!

This is Turkey, there are a lot of great wild camping spots on the beach

This is Turkey, there are a lot of great wild camping spots on the beach

Tempers continue to flair, and I have noticed many (older couples) getting into disputes at the market place. Fighting over which fruit or vegetable to buy and even which loin of meat to take home and cook. The ever-present fasting breath, an extreme version of halitosis is also rampant! While conversing with locals I really have to try hard to keep my distance as many Turkish people think that talking inches from your face will help you understand what they are saying, ahhh. All in all I have enjoyed my experiences in Turkey but I would advise future travelers to avoid the holy month of Ramadan, people are too edgy and it is extremely hard to find fresh cooked food during the day.

Turkish tailor double stitches SWRVE knickers while Gabriella waits in the window

Turkish tailor double stitches SWRVE knickers while Gabriella waits in the window

After my last post, I decided to take some side roads through a large green section depicted on the map (the peninsula between Fatsa and Ordu) . Within a few km, the road started to climb though a beautiful jungle. There was a lingering morning haze, and I could see jagged mountains, a waterfall and even the minaret of a mosque tucked away in the foliage. The surroundings were much like Hana, HI and invoked images of classical Chinese paintings. It was hot and humid though, and before long my clothes were soaked with sweat. The sun is so strong out here that I actually got burned through my long sleeve shirt. I used to think that UV protected clothing was a bunch of bull, especially when REI started selling it but when one is exposed to strong UV rays 24/7 normal clothing can’t hold out.

Qing Screen depicting Chinese countryside

Qing Screen depicting Chinese countryside

Tropical peninsula between Fatsa and Ordu

Tropical peninsula between Fatsa and Ordu

Mosque on the beach

Mosque on the beach

I passed several Turkish villages situated directly on the beach and was shocked by the Islamic Oceanic culture. “Normally”, from what I have experienced in CA, Hawaii, Greece and other locations, in a city, town or village located in a tropical place it is not uncommon to see locals in swimming suits, bikinis, and even a few sun burned tourists here and there. But here were nothing of the sort. Women were fully dressed, head to toe, with a little skin showing between the nose and forehead, men were in slacks, and long sleeve shirts sometimes with jackets wearing the popular devoted Muslim white skull-cap. There were no fisherman or seafood vendors, (most shops were selling lamb and beef), no one was in the water swimming and kids could be found playing in the courtyard around the mosque. This was a beach environment I had never experience. It was almost as if you transported a desert culture to a tropical beach, there was no visible assimilation with the ocean.

Desolate black sand beaches

Desolate black sand beaches

I pedaled on and found a black sand beach, with crystal clear water. After pushing Gabriella through the sand I found to my astonishment I was the only one there. This was the nicest beach I had been too since Croatia or Montenegro, and none of the locals want to go for a swim? Or hanging out on a hot day? (Later I learned that most the locals were either at the tea house or in the Mosque). I swam out and was quickly surrounded by a school of Moon Jellyfish (Jellyfish without tentacles). They felt like big squishy blobs as I pushed them away while swimming. At first I was a bit scared of being stung but there was nothing there to skin me and their squishy bodies tickled my arms and legs. No long after I heard the afternoon call to prayer and I looked to the huge Mosque built near the rocky cliffs. A tropical paradise in a conservative Islamic country.

More secluded beaches

More secluded beaches

Hours later the small jungle road rejoined the highway and the lush terrain morphed into flat fields and long sandy beaches. Hotels, restaurants and cafes lined the coast and I stopped again to refresh myself in the cool water. “No beach unless you pay 10 TL”, valets collecting money near all the roads leading to the beach, and even on a bike it seemed I couldn’t get by without a duty. “I go to beach and camp”….”OK”? I said. “OK” the valet said and let me through without the 10 TL fee. (Not sure how that worked but I did). The beaches here were populated as the large city of Ordu was not far away. Domestic tourists, mostly sun bathing their large bodies in the intense afternoon sun and children playing backgammon. The sand was too hot for bare feet and the large beach took on a mirage similar to that of a desert.

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A relatively similar environment as before, the only people in the water were children under the age of 15, and many of the sun bathers, other than the Turkish men with big stomachs were fully clothed. I walked several km of the beach in search of the ever-present women swimming in Burqa,(which I had heard about from several sources) but unfortunately I didn’t see any. I watched the sun make tall/long shadows and spent the day swimming in the cool murky waters. I made camp on a random patch of grass a few meters from the sea and cooked pasta in the early evening hours. Somewhere between the hours of 1-3 am a small boat got stuck in the ropes of a swimming lane near the shore, and drifting in and out of sleep I listened to two Turkish men curse at one another while they banged a hammer like tool on the propeller.

A red river meters before meeting the black sea

A red river meters before meeting the black sea

A storm blew in and the next few days were filled with rain and thick fog. The weather caught me off guard and soaked all of my clothes! It was so warm and humid that it wasn’t much of a bother but sleeping in the tent with the fly on was almost unbearable. For two nights I prayed that the rain would stop and the clouds lift just long enough for me to get some sleep without the fly, but both nights a drizzle prevailed. Like in Jordan, I played Adam and Eve in my tent and slept completely naked waiting for the late evening coastal breeze.

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Frescoes inside the early Byzantium Church, now a Mosque Ayasophia Camii Trabzon

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Inside Ayasophia Camii, Trabzon

Inside Ayasophia Camii,
Trabzon

I pedaled past the large cities of Giresun, Trabzon, and Rize, stopping in Trabzon to view the ancient Byzantium church converted to a Mosque and yesterday I crossed the rainy border into Georgia. The customs official gave me a bit of flack because he had to take my passport out of ziplock bag, to check my nationality, but I crossed the border before dark and spent a dry night at a guest house near the border. Since leaving Istanbul I have pedaled over 1,200 km and am ready for a new language and culture. Georgia, like many of the future countries I will be pedaling through was once part of the USSR, making Russian a common second language out here. Tonight I will learn my necessary phrases as I prepare to pedal into the remote Georgian alps.

Looking down at the city of Batumi, Georgia

Looking down at the city of Batumi, Georgia

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